Even as these wonderful technologies come along, some marketers will make mistakes that turn off consumers. Ponemon cites the Facebook Beacon program, which passed into history in September, as a good marketing idea gone bad. The idea was that those on the network would learn that one of their friends, for instance, bought a pair of sneakers online. "The reason for doing that, of course, is mimicking is very common, especially around younger people," he says.
But more troubling stories emerged of men buying diamond rings that were meant to be surprise gifts, only to be surprised themselves when their purchases were announced to all their friends—including the intended recipients—through the Facebook news feed.
The Beacon mistake highlights another fact about modern life. "I think one of the trends in privacy is, believe it or not, accepting the reality that privacy is out of the control of the individual," Ponemon says. "There's just too much information out there. So the horse has left the barn."
For the short term on the legal front, direct marketers should be focused on the Federal Trade Commission and "Exploring Privacy: A Roundtable Series." The roundtables that start this month and roll into 2010 have a worrying tone to them, in that the language in the commission's announcement hints the FTC may already have decided what privacy practices cause consumers injury, says D. Reed Freeman Jr., a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Morrison & Foerster. Freeman, who also is on the board of directors of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, specializes in consumer protection law.
"Next year, with Congress looking at online advertising … at data security, with the FTC re-evaluating its entire privacy enforcement agenda and with the states adopting information security practices that differ from those in other states, we are at the outset of probably the most dynamic regulatory environment for direct marketing since the implementation of the telemarketing sales rule in 1995," Freeman opines. "But this sweeping change will be cross-industry and focused on not just telemarketing, but on all aspects of contact directly with consumers."